I grimaced upon hearing those six words.
Looking up as nonchalantly as I could manage, I saw Koko leaning against the counter opposite me. Her eyes were sultrier than those of an actress from an 80s skin flick. Ice-cream scooper in hand, her voluptuous chest bulged from behind her apron. Dense eyeliner and mascara made her face appear more raccoon-like than human. Her pale eastern skin glowed like a silken scarf held up in front of the sun. She puckered her coquettish lips and slowly pressed the ice-cream scooper between her twins. The front of the apron creased until a massive shadow appeared. Then she giggled in that way only Asian girls can giggle.
‘Strawberry syrup is to die for,’ she repeated.
I scowled. ‘Koko…so you’ve told me.’
‘Mmm, but you weren’t listening before.’
‘I am now.’
She giggled again. ‘No you’re not! Still paying attention to all the wrong things…’ She suddenly thrust her hips forward against the counter, causing the nearby metal utensils and aluminum topping basins to rattle. When the rest of the shop’s patrons looked up in alarm, she stood up straight and proper as a Baptist girl, held her hand over her open mouth and blinked as though surprised like the rest of them. ‘Oops! New here!’ she explained. Everyone laughed nervously at her seeming naïveté and returned to their conversations and ice-creams.
‘See,’ she whispered behind her hand. ‘All life takes is a little observation, a little cleverness, and you can get away with murder.’
‘Yeah, and in the meantime everyone will think you’re nuts.’
‘So what? Who are they? Nobodies! All that matters is that you know who you are inside.’
‘Koko! Nobody who?’ came her boss’ voice from the back room.
‘No, I said "no body can subsist on ice-cream as a daily meal. It would give you diabetes!"’ She winked at me. ‘See? He thinks I’m so silly! But I know better. Just use a big word or two in a sentence that makes you look unconscious of your own ignorance, and no one will judge you!’
‘Koko, your advice is always strangely unwise.’
‘Aww, I know. Now. Are you going to have strawberry syrup or what?’
‘Why is it that whenever I come in here, you’re always pushing that god damn strawberry crap on me. You know I like chocolate.’
‘Oh, Mr. Sims! Darek said a curse!’
Her boss looked out from the back room and scowled at me a moment, then disappeared again.
I glared at her. ‘Stop getting me into trouble,’ I gritted half to myself.
She did not seem to notice. ‘Chocolate is for parents who were kids thirty years ago. Strawberry is better!’
‘Because,’ she said, leaning over farther than before. ‘It is to die for.’
Shit. I didn’t even see that one coming.
I rolled my eyes, trying to conceal the fact that I was staring at her chest.
‘Darek,’ she whispered. ‘You like them don’t you?’
I breathed for a moment, hating myself. I decided to play her cynical game. ‘I don’t like them. Well, I do, but in that way a biologist likes strange and mutated species. He doesn’t really like them more than anything else; he just finds them bizarre.’ For answer she remained silent, opening the freezer and scooping rocky road into the glass dish which she held right between her breasts. Fearful someone might really see her this time, I glanced around nervously.
The sharp crack of the ice-cream dish on the counter made me jerk my head around. She had her arms crossed and was pouting at me. She had evidently slammed the dish down to get my attention.
‘Koko,’ I whispered, ‘you can’t even sulk right. Look, they’re so huge you can’t cross your arms properly.’
She narrowed her eyes at me for a moment, surprised I had continued my insolence. She seemed to think that she had claim to anything and everything cheeky, and was upset I had edged into her behavioral turf. I knew she would only tolerate so much competition before pitching a fit. Part of me wanted to push her to that point, push her to really draw attention to the self she had so cleverly hidden from everyone else, just to see her get fired. Nineteen and from a well-off home, she was privileged in every possible and unthinkable way: new car at sixteen, prep schools all her life, summer job ‘just to be part of community service’ (the false humility!), plastic surgery at seventeen, and on and on. But if I pushed her to that point, I might end up looking like a dick myself. I wasn’t sure I wanted that. Plus, she was so cute when she got pouty; she was a bitch when she got mad. Judging the line between the two was dicey. I decided to play it safe.
‘Strawberry syrup, please.’
Her face cleared. She tilted her head almost in disbelief. ‘What?’
‘Just…just put it on there and stop giving me shit or I’ll never come visit you again, Koko.’
She knew I was bluffing. Pretending to still be upset, she plunged the spoon into the basin and proceeded to transfer half the sticky red stuff into my ice-cream dish. Though I knew she would probably give me more syrup than I wanted, I had not expected my scoops to be floating in a veritable bloodbath.
‘Koko—’ I began.
‘It’s a vampire-split,’ she said, suddenly warm and perky.
‘Uh…huh. Where’s the banana?’
She smiled at me. ‘Oh Darek…you already have it.’
Despite myself, a nervous laugh burst out of me. God damn it. How did I fall for that? She sounded so hot saying that.
She leaned her elbows on the metal edge of the counter and looked up at me. I took my dish and went to one of the tables, unsure whether to say something back or just let her have the last word and be done. I half-expected her to follow me to my table and sit, eyes flashing, watching me eat my syrup-ruined sundae from Hell. When I snuck a glance at her, she was busy replacing empty ice-cream tubs with new ones. Now that we were both otherwise occupied, the afternoon felt better than earlier. It felt great to forget about her, eat the crap I’d paid for, and contemplate the rest of the day. When, after almost choking, I finished the ice-cream and went to the counter to pay (I had forgotten to pay earlier on account of our banter…no one else in the future of that little ice-cream shop would ever make the kind of history we had just made), I almost thought she’d ignore me and let someone else help me. Instead, she came running out of the back and rang me up before Daisy could touch the register.
‘So! How was the strawberry syrup?’ Her eyes glowed. She bit her lip, nervous.
I eyed her. ‘Koko…it was gross.’
‘Aww, too much?’
‘Well, yes, it was more syrup than ice-cream.’
‘I know, but the flavor is good though, isn’t it?’
‘Actually no. It didn’t really taste like strawberry. I mean, I could tell it was…and yet it wasn’t. It was like…beyond chemically, you know? And it had this weird metallic aftertaste. Have you really tried that stuff lately?’ I said in a lower tone.
Her nod surprised me. ‘M-hm. All the time. That’s why I recommended it to you, because somehow I knew you’d like it where others never did.’
‘Yeah, well your faith in me is flattering, but I think I’m with the others, Koko.’
She didn’t seem to hear my negation. ‘Aww, I flatter you?’
‘Uh, not exactly—’
‘I didn’t know I could do that!’
‘Well, now you have.’
‘And you ate all that syrup without really liking it!’ she almost shouted.
Her exuberance startled me. ‘No, I ate it because this place sells freaking expensive ice-cream,’ I whispered making sure her boss didn’t overhear.
Again she didn’t seem to notice what I’d said. ‘Oh Darek, I never thought I’d get you to like that stuff!’
‘Yeah, well, I hope by the next time I have it—if there ever is a next time—that the batch is different…and more strawberry…ish.’
I turned at walked out the door to my car.
God. Weirdness. In that whole ordeal, I hadn’t even noticed her body. That was a good change. Hadn’t thought I could conquer something like that so quickly. I guess the syrup had been the bitter pill I needed after all. She wasn’t worth my time anyway.
I drove back to my apartment, kicked off my shoes, and slumped in front of the TV, perplexed. Honestly, I thought the drive home would help me take what had lessened in my mind at the ice-cream parlor and completely erase it. But here I was, still effected by what had happened. I wasn’t really thinking about her, more the entire experience. Koko was strange—had always been strange (there was her sister…total psycho…she liked that strawberry syrup, too), but today she was just plain weird. Ever since her grandfather had refurbished the old ice-cream joint, they’d brought in weird stuff: ice-cream flavors were pretty much the American norm, but the toppings and stuff…
I hit the remote and sat through two episodes of the Simpsons, trying to remind myself that there was a normal side to humor and cheekiness that wasn’t spelled ‘K-o-k-o.’ By the time a new show aired, I’d forgotten the whole thing and had grabbed my laptop to get some work done before the night was out. I’ve never minded working with the TV running, it’s more like ambient noise than anything else. An old war movie came on, one of the really old ones before John Wayne starred in them, like the ones with Errol Flynn where the explosions sound more like potato cannons going off. As I watched out of the corner of my eye, I began to notice the rifle-shots were not in sync with the actual film. I brushed it off to my lousy TV set. But it kept happening in this consistent and hollow-sounding way that wasn’t really like gunfire. Suddenly I realized it wasn’t my TV but a knocking at my door. I shot up and ran to see who it was. Landlord probably had another of his schizophrenic complaints.
It was Koko. She was standing there, an impossibly eager smile on her face, with her hands clasped together. She swayed back and forth almost in a little dance.
My heart pounded. I knew I wanted her. Apparently I hadn’t conquered what I thought I had. ‘Holy shit, Koko! What are you doing here? How’d you find my address? Did I leave a strawberry syrup trail for you to follow?’
She laughed hysterically at my cheesy joke. In each giggle I sensed the infatuation, the intention coursing through her veins.
‘Drake, you just won’t let that die, will you?’ She bounced up and down like a giddy school girl who’s just received a real friendship bracelet.
That bounce had the desired effect on me. Before she could even move or say anything further, I threw my arms around her and pressed her to my chest. Warmth and softness enveloped me as I closed my eyes and smelled her hair. As I kissed her, I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. Koko was crazy for me.
Not content to stand locked in a selfish embrace on my doorstep, Koko gave a little push with her legs and forced me inside, wrapping her hands around my waist and fidgeting with my belt. As she did so, a wave of panic ran down my chest like a gulp of acid. Damn it; she had already done this before. It was so scripted. Damn.
She continued to fidget, her short fingers fumbling as though they were cold and rigid. Her hands shook.
I gently wrapped her in my arms again. ‘Koko…baby…are you ok?’
‘Y-yes! She nodded. ‘N-no,’ she said after a moment. She bit her lip as her face flushed in the dim light of my apartment.
I realized everything. ‘Oh, Koko, I’m so sorry! God, dang! I’ve been such a jerk, grabbing on you…’
‘Drake!’ her giggles pealed like tinkling bells. ‘I’m eager too. Just be gentle, please?’ As she spoke, she unbuttoned her small blouse.
That instant I became a shameless idolater, a wicked misogynist and greedy objectifier, more intent than the patient wolf who stares from within the cover of its hiding place. My rapacious eyes received the secret sights I had so long imagined. My mind found answers to the desperate questions long-entertained. The mystery now known, I flushed and almost gasped for breath before her soft, supple perfection. So pale, so delicate. I bit my lip as she turned to the side with a smile. She was so beautiful I almost felt evil in my staring. Such features could not be meant for me.
She turned back to face me, breathing softly. ‘Come here, Drake. Don’t be afraid.’
I took her by the hand. ‘Where?’
She held my gaze with embarrassed yet determined eyes. ‘Anywhere.’
The rest was dream. There was no high about which I’d read, no shrooms on planet earth that could equal the dizzy, surreal passions we shared. Everything was paradox: softness and rigidity, aggression and placidness, patience and urgency, vaguery and lucidness. At first we were at a loss to utter any sound, but at length we each contributed to a symphony of shared agony. At the end I lost any strength I had left and collapsed on her, powerless to control myself. She shifted under me, both frustrated and elated. She dug her short fingers into my shoulder blades until I winced.
We drifted off into a dreamy half-sleep more restful than dream, and yet not slumber. We both smiled, panting and grateful, surprised by the other’s accommodations and gentleness. She stroked my shoulders and made me shiver. I pressed against her and grabbed the throw hanging over the back of the sofa. I arranged it over us.
‘There. Chrysalis of love is complete.’
‘Oh Drake! Sex makes you wax poetical!’ ‘Mmm, it does most men.’ I looked into her eyes, confident, knowing more than I had ever known. She surveyed my blatant pride, and licked her lips. I could not tell whether she was satisfied or incredulous.
‘Hey. You know what would make this the perfect chrysalis? A little strawberry syrup!’ Her eyes glowed as before.
‘Oh God, Koko! Not that again! Don’t ruin a perfect evening, babe!’ I drew my finger across her bosom. I closed my eyes. ‘Kiss me, Koko,’ I breathed.
Lost in my own desire, I did not see her tilt her head to the side. I did not see her position her mouth against my neck.
But I felt her bite.
She bit down hard, her passion wild, eyes aflame with another lust I could not place. I tried to pull away but she flung her arms around the back of my neck and held me in her own selfish embrace. Sticky red spurted. Through my screams, I tasted my own blood that trickled down my jaw, neck, and shoulder. That taste stifled what screams were in my throat to silence. I had tasted something similar, although sweeter, before. But that metallic flavor, that alarming acridness was unmistakable.
Seeing my sheer fright, Koko paused from her gorging long enough to smile a crimson-stained grin and say, ‘Strawberry syrup, like I said! It is to die for!’